The custom of exchanging curiously decor-ated and coloured eggs on Easter Day, primarily as sacred memorials, and secondarily as tokens of friendship and affection, commenced in very early days, has continued up to the present, and it is interesting to note the various ingenious methods employed throughout the centuries for the embellishment of these fragile offerings.
Italy was the home of many beautifully designed and elaborately painted Easter eggs, which, we are told, were frequently presented as gifts to ladies of quality. Records and drawings of some of these quaint old-time Paschal offerings are still to be seen in the British Museum.
It was formerly an ancient custom in Cheshire for children of the poorer classes to go round the villages, begging eggs for their Easter dinner. They sang a short song, begging for "An egg, bacon, cheese, or an apple, or any good thing to make us merry," ending with, "And I pray you, good dame, an Easter egg."
Good old customs die hard, and now, as yet another year brings round Eastertide once more, we look for the bright and spring-like gifts prepared in anticipation of the great festival. Nor are we ever doomed to disappointment, so lavish is the universal display of gaily decorated Easter eggs, provided year by year, so varied and so tempting are the contents of the same.
Though in England it is principally children who expect to receive eggs on Easter
Day, whether it be the short-lived chocolate or sugar variety, or the more substantial kind, containing toys, many very beautiful specimens are prepared as gifts for grown-up persons, or for Easter table adornments.
Articles of jewellery are sometimes enclosed in small, richly decorated eggs in enamel, silver, or porcelain. Hand-painted eggs never go out of favour, and many decorative artists find wide scope for their skill in evolving striking designs for the ornamentation of the lovely examples found in the shop windows at this season. A satin or velvet egg forms a delightful subject for painting upon, and as these can be obtained in plain self-colours of delicate hue from most leading confectioners, amateurs are advised to try for themselves the fascinating process of decorating the firm, oval surface, always remembering that a very little painting goes a long way, a simple spray of flowers having a far better chance of success than a more elaborate design. Water colours, liberally mixed with Chinese white, are generally employed, also Pastinello paints; while velvet eggs are painted in pyrography and liquid stains.
On Easter Day in Russia, the joyful salutation, "Surrexit!" (He is risen) may be heard on all sides, followed by the orthodox reply, "Vere surrexit!" (He is risen indeed), on which occasion eggs are exchanged, usually red in colour. Frequently, however
A satin egg forms a charming subject for painting. A simple flower design is most suitable carried out in water-colours or Pastinello paints these eggs are extremely ornamental, Russian artists being especially happy in their treatment of decorative objects. The one illustrated is of wood stained in rich red, blue, and green tones, relieved with dark lines of burnt wood engraving, and judicious touches of gilding. One side bears a rustic scene, strikingly portrayed; the other, conventional patterns. Though a trifle barbaric in colouring, this egg possesses considerable originality and charm. A noted London firm makes a speciality of Russian eggs, some of which are contrived in the form of nests, one egg fitting inside the other down to the smallest size imaginable. These are well worth preserving as curios; while the larger ones serve to contain strings of beads, necklaces, and chains.
From Switzerland, the home of the wood-carver, come many excellent examples of popular Easter eggs. These, gracefully painted and highly polished, form useful receptacles in which to enclose little gifts - a bottle of scent, a tiny vanity bag, or some of the miniature bronze or china animals and birds so much in vogue at present.
More fragile, yet extremely dainty in appearance are French eggs, covered with every conceivable material, stylishly trimmed with ribbons, artificial flowers, birds, and butterflies. These usually contain chocolates, or other bon-bons. One of these elegant models, apparently composed entirely of flowers, is quite easy to make at home, if a satin egg is provided for a foundation together with a few sprays of silk flowers of a flat and simple nature, such as primroses, large forget-me-nots, or lilac blossoms. The heads of these are cut off short, and each one gummed separately on to the satin egg, row by row, till the whole is covered. A contrasting band of colour lends variety to the design, as in the example illustrated, where a diagonal ribbon of dark blue forget-me-nots appears in relief against a background entirely composed of lilac. Letters can be cut out of stiff muslin, and made to form words such as "Eastertide," "Happy Easter," or "Souvenir," when covered closely with flowers. A big bow of ribbon adds, an effective finish. As table decorations these floral eggs are novel and attractive.
In Germany, it is the timid hare who is supposed to be responsible for the plentiful supply of brightly coloured Easter eggs so eagerly sought for by the children in all manner of hiding-places. The hare, therefore, plays a very important part in German Easter observances, and representations of the gentle, long-eared little creature are immensely popular. Indeed, they are fast acquiring a firm footing in this country also, and threaten to outrival the charms of the hens, chickens, frogs, and fish that never fail to put in an appearance whenever the glad spring festival is at hand.